On Feb. 9 Austan Goolsbee, the senior economic adviser to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, had a meeting with Georges Rioux, consul general for the Canadian government. The two men met in Chicago, where Rioux maintains a consular office for the states of Illinois, Missouri, and Wisconsin and where Goolsbee teaches economics at the University of Chicago. (Slate readers may also remember Goolsbee as a onetime “Dismal Science” columnist.) Afterward, Joseph DeMora, a consulate staff member, wrote an enthusiastic summary (see below and the following two pages) for Canadian Ambassador Michael Wilson. In the memo, DeMora praised Goolsbee’s “intellectual prowess … approachability, curiosity and youthful enthusiasm” and alerted Wilson that the Obama brain-truster “appeared genuinely … impressed by the magnitude” of the economic relationship between the United States and Canada (see below).
For the Canadians, a key point of concern was Obama’s sharp criticism of the North American Free Trade Agreement. DeMora wrote Wilson that in the Chicago meeting, Goolsbee “candidly acknowledged the protectionist sentiment that has emerged, particularly in the Midwest, during the primary campaign” but reassured Rioux that Obama’s NAFTA-bashing “should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans.” Three weeks later, Canada’s CTV News reported that a “senior member” of Obama’s campaign had phoned Wilson personally to advise him to “not be worried about what Obama says about NAFTA.” The Obama campaign denied that story, which (if you believe DeMora’s account) was only slightly off the mark, and declined to elaborate. On March 3 the Associated Press released the DeMora memo, which by then had circulated widely within the Canadian government. Asked once again to comment, Obama said his campaign provided Canada no such reassurance while Goolsbee maintained that DeMora “misinterpreted” his comments. For its part, the Chicago consulate smoothed things over with a statement saying, “there was no intention to convey, in any way, that Senator Obama and his campaign team were taking a different position in public from views expressed in private.” It looks like President Obama may owe one to our friendly neighbors to the north.